The last stop for a trip of Israeli college students learning about their Jewish heritage was a meeting with their college counterparts of the Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC) at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
The Israeli students were part of the Generations of Israel, a program for non-religious students of Ben Gurion University and Tel Aviv University that teaches them some of Judaism’s core values during the course of their studies and culminates in a visit to the United States. The JLIC is a program of the Orthodox Union in partnership with Hillel and supported by donors, where an Orthodox couple is placed at a secular college campus to enhance religious life on campus and serve as a support for students.
Students sat together for dinner and dessert last month and, with prompts from educators, discussed a range of topics including anti-Semitism, Israel advocacy, service in the Israeli Defense Forces, Jewish identity, and the American-Israeli relationship.
Rabbi Darren Levin, who together with his wife Avital, are the JLIC couple of John Hopkins University, said that the sit-down was a warm exchange of ideas.
“Students were afforded the opportunity to sit with Israelis, some of who have never been to America, and learned what it was like to serve in the army immediately after graduating high school,” he explained. “And the Israeli students learned what was it like to be Jewish in a place where most people aren’t. The Israelis were surprised by the commitment that some of the Americans had shown, especially in light of America’s broader secular landscape. Some of the Israeli students said they took their Jewish identity for granted.”
“We talk a lot about support for Israel, achdut (unity), and Ahavat Yisrael (love of Israel and its people),” Levin continued. “This was the opportunity to do it in one room.”
Nadav Krauss, a delegation manager for Generations of Israel, agreed about the sentiment of the meeting. “Our participants felt they are doing something important for themselves and for the Johns Hopkins students.”
Danielle Pitkoff, a graduate of SAR Academy in New York and a current student at Johns Hopkins, said that the meeting was comforting for the American students who had recently spent time in Israel.
“We were envious of the tangible spirit of their homeland, while they really admired our dedication to make Israel a priority in our lives here,” she said.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.